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How can Tai Chi help my daily life? Flow more, Force less

I’ve always wanted to learn about Tai Chi but never found the time. I saw a great deal from TennisOne for a course teaching Tai Chi in relation to tennis. So I thought I would take this as an opportunity to learn Tai Chi while also improving my tennis game.

Continually moving towards your goals is a principle of Cell Your Sole. To do this without overloading myself I like to combine activities and achieve more things with one period of effort. Developing my tennis game through learning Tai Chi makes Tai Chi practical right away.

Tai Chi = Unforced Balance

I’ve heard that Tai Chi is about understanding your body more so you can achieve more physically yet it’s a very relaxed approach using gentle flowing movements. This is the kind of methodology I’m looking for. I need something that:

  • fits into my daily life
  • requires minimal effort: improves me yet doesn’t demand too much.
  • prevents injury
  • improves my day to day activities: Something that is useful every day.

The course is Flow more, force less: Tai Chi Movement and Principles and is provided by Tennis One.

I like Tennis One because it takes me back in time. They aren’t up with current technology but their lessons are timeless. Tai Chi is centuries old and, I hope, as relevant today and tomorrow as yesterday.

The course is a series of lessons available through private youtube videos with downloadable versions you can keep for life if you want.

Finding Neutral

First impressions are really good. Each lesson is exactly what I want. I’ve noticed how most if not all my injuries come from me trying too hard. I push my body beyond what it is comfortable with, often for too long either in matches or practise and generally over days or weeks.
So I’m increasingly interested in the value of small purposeful movements to achieve an end instead of big powerful ones. 

Instead of training just for tennis my philosophy is to use my life to prepare me for tennis and vice versa. So I prefer to use daily tasks like walking my dog, DIY and playing with my son as opportunities to strengthen and train my body so that it is strong enough for tennis.

An easier life

Very much like in Karate Kid when painting a fence laid the foundation for the boys body to understand karate. My life is getting easier and easier as I apply this concept more. I already find that walking my dog is excellent recovery from my intense Tennis matches and sessions. At the same time the walk challenges my body and encourages strong bones, proper use of energy like fats, carbs and protein and other elements like salt a walk also encourages recovery.

Muscles around your body move rhythmically massaging blood and other items to where they need to go. Synovial fluid starts bathing your joints, nourishing them so they can heal and strengthen. The gentle pressure of the walk encourages healing in the correct direction that nature requires.

it seems fantastical to describe healing in this way but it’s how we have evolved. Gentle activity is the most natural state. Being sedentary isn’t so natural. So our bodies have evolved uses for this activity like using the contraction of the lower leg muscles to push blood back up the body into normal circulation. The motion of walking is important in moving food through the digestive system, helping the process along. As an equal and opposite reaction you find that without activity problems develop because the body is no longer getting the support it requires. Bowel problems can start because food isn’t being moved around the body. Blood may also pool in the legs because it isn’t being returned by the leg muscles through movement. This can obviously cause problems in the legs.

I’ve started the course and already I’ve found it’s just what I wanted. At first glance it’s very simple but just like in Karate Kid the more you apply and learn, the more complex you realise these basic principles are. My initial thoughts are that I have found a beautiful art I can practise every day. I’m already doing similar activities and now I have direction.

Quality over quantity

I like the delivery of Gene Burnett the instructor because it is very level and calming. He doesn’t shout or rush, everything is gentle, well explained and also made relevant to real life first. Basics like how you stand, move to look at things and how to just be. It may sound a bit fanciful but having taught in gyms and had many injuries from bad posture and technique I quickly realise how everything here is about doing a lot with a little effort. Quality over quantity.

So far I’m enjoying the course so much it feels worth writing a post for each lesson sharing what I learn.

Course details

  • Overview of Course – Read this First!
  • Introduction
  • Finding Neutral
  • Springy Power
  • Turning:Bringing Your Whole Self
  • Ripple of Power: Expressed by the Hands
  • Opening and Closing
  • Grounding Opposing Force
  • Warding Off
  • Yielding
  • Rolling Back
  • Improvised Flow
  • Concluding Remarks

Brain’s motor cortex uses multiple frequency bands to coordinate movement

 How and why we move is a fascinating topic. We have long known that muscle movement is coordinated through systematically triggering muscles. The trigger pattern determines the type of movement produced. New research has uncovered how this pattern is widespread throughout the brain structures involved with movement.

Synchrony is critical for the proper functioning of the brain. Synchronous firing of neurons within regions of the brain and synchrony between brain waves in different regions facilitate information processing, yet researchers know very little about these neural codes. Now, new research led by Tomoki Fukai of the RIKEN Brain Science Institute reveals how one region of the brain uses multiple brain-wave frequency bands to control movement.

Read more in  Brain’s motor cortex uses multiple frequency bands to coordinate movement

Exercise may slow progression of retinal degeneration

That is the finding of a study in the Journal of Neuroscience. Exercise appears to preserve the structure and function of nerve cells in the retina after damage. 

Moderate aerobic exercise helps to preserve the structure and function of nerve cells in the retina after damage, according to an animal study appearing February 12 in TheJournal of Neuroscience. The findings suggest exercise may be able to slow the progression of retinal degenerative diseases.

To find out more check out  Exercise may slow progression of retinal degeneration

Can training your nerves improve athletic performance?

In the last post I asked Why train your nerves? It was a precursor to explaining the value of a healthy and strong nervous system to athletic performance.

In fact it is little known that the reason sedentary people improve so much when they begin exercising is because their nervous system adapts very quickly. The reason for the inevitable plateau is that the rest of the body takes much longer to adapt. So improvements then reflect the normal pace of change within the body.

Nerves adapt quickly

The specific reason for such vast improvements when people return to activity is pretty much down to nerves triggering muscles. Muscles, bones, ligaments and nerves don’t grow particularly fast so of course improvements couldn’t come from new growth. Instead muscle output and thus strength, endurance and other athletic measures depend on good coordination of all the systems involved. So the big improvements come from the coordination of muscles and at a much smaller level muscles are broken down into groups of muscle cells controlled by motor units which are groups of nerves that tell the muscle cells when to fire.

Coordinated patterns

Despite how it looks and feels it is rare for the whole of a muscle to contract (fire) at once. The reality is that each unit of muscle cells fires at a specific time aiming to produce a pattern of firing that leads to the desired result. Muscles that haven’t been used often therefore become lax at achieving and maintaining the specific firing patterns that are required. They know what to do but are out of practise. We can all relate to that. Specifically they are unable to achieve the exact pattern of firing required but they also tire sooner. They seem to run out of energy.

Lack of nerve

The evidence is that energy for the muscle to move is still there and if triggered it will move. The problem lies with the trigger system. The nerves are simply not able to trigger the muscles for long enough.

I studied sports science at university yet this explanation wasn’t part of my course. I found it delving deeper into books I found. The single point of failure was always assumed to be the muscle even though all the evidence pointed elsewhere.

So of course I’ve been waiting to take this insight further and share. That time has now come.

Muscle output: Is it neural?

An experiment we undertook during my studies at Loughborough taught me early on that it wasn’t muscle fatigue or presence of lactic acid that limited performance despite common knowledge saying otherwise.

We completed some experiments with repeated sprints and measured lactic acid and muscle output from repeated 30 second sprints on a stationary bike. Each participant was a sports science student, fitness wasn’t tested but assumed to be normal or above average.

What has always stuck in my mind was that the participants could always produce more power and muscle output in the second sprint compared to the first. This defies the logic that Lactic acid hinders performance because the second sprint always occurred with much more Lactic acid travelling through the individuals system. So, at least in this experiment Lactic Acid concentration didn’t impede exercise power output.

I was weight training from an early age so I was familiar with having more strength and power in my second set of work than my first and this experiment opened my eyes as to why. I had heard before that Lactic acid doesn’t have the impact that it’s famed for. Not in sprinting and power activities at least.

So I had always wondered if the nervous system had a greater role to play. Over time I have found articles and experiments indicating that the ability of nerves to do their job is the defining factor in performing a skill assuming someone is proficient.

This is based on these three statements:

  1. Do muscles fatigue as quickly as thought?
  2. If not Something else is the weakpoint. What is it?
  3. Does the ability of nerves to trigger muscle activity determine muscle output?

The problem is that I found much of this research before I knew about the internet. So my challenge now is to ask these questions again and see what I find.

Enjoy everyday activities more by knowing how digestion works

Because it’s not what you eat but the way that you eat it it is important to understand that the benefits of knowing why eating while moving can be bad for you? can be applied to more than just moving around. Exercise is is just one situation where dehydration is likely.

Being aware of all these situations and activities where dehydration can occur is key to knowing how to deal with stomach pains from dehydration.

The basic understanding of physiology covered in the related posts is useful to explain why I don’t have intense meals, ones that are hard for the body to digest before or during many every day situations:

  • intense activity
  • times of low water, either I’m dehydrated or will be because no drinks are available. 
    • Long trips in a car, train, plain or other
  • situations where I don’t want to need the toilet.
    • during meetings
    • at the cinema

It can seem obvious but it’s been really useful to know little tricks like this so I can be in control of myself during the day and make my body work for me all the time.

Dealing with stomach pains from dehydration

A problem with eating certain types of foods is pain in my stomach during or particularly after intense exercise or any other time I get dehydrated. It is a key reason why eating while or before moving can be bad for you

Fibre and dehydration causes pain

I’ve noticed it most when I eat a bran, high fibre, type breakfast and played tennis at lunch. I found it often hurt afterwards and my explanation is that the stomach doesn’t get much blood while playing tennis yet it is still digesting the meal.

I play tennis pretty intensely so my body is in conflict between supplying blood for movement and blood for digestion. In this situation of intense movement my body needs all the water it can get so  my digestive system removes the water from my breakfast for my muscles to use. This reduces the water content of my meal while it is still travelling through my body. With lots of fibre in my meal this can cause problems and pain.

Fibre needs water

The point of bran and fibre rich foods is that they don’t get digested by the body. That’s why they clean your system because they act like a brush. Pushing things along your digestive system instead of letting them hang around. The firmness fibre provides is important but is also the source of pain when you are dehydrated.

Fibre needs a lot of water to make your digested meal a thick soup so that the fibre can do its work without irritating your digestive system. When water is removed it starts to become thicker, possibly chunky. These thicker chunks can irritate the digestive system and become quite painful. That’s the basic reason why healthy foods can hurt your stomach and cause pain. Most of us don’t realise just how much liquid must accompany the fibre.

Drink water to relieve pain

The good news is that once I learnt this I rarely have this problem. If I know I will get dehydrated during the day then I plan my meals accordingly. If I do get pains that I’ve just described then the fix is water as quickly as possible. Since the pains come from dehydration then replacing water becomes an obvious solution.

It doesn’t matter too much what the water is e.g.

  • coffee
  • tea
  • fizzy drink
  • plain water
  • hot/cold

It just matters that you have some and have as much as you feel you need. You learn how much you need over time so it’s best to drink too much than too little. You’ll pee more more be in less pain.

A quick fix

It’s quite surprising how quickly this can fix the problem. Sometimes within a minute but always within 5-10 minutes I’m fine. It’s uncomfortable, sometimes very painful so it’s very comforting to know I have an easy fix available.

Now you can can understand now why I make sure I have water available whenever I can. 🙂

Everyday activities

Tomorrow I will explain how this knowledge helps me enjoy everyday activities more.

Why eating while moving can be bad for you?

Building on the idea that it’s not what you eat but the way that you eat it it’s important to explain the reasons why moving while eating can be bad for you. Knowing this can make sure it never is bad for you by empowering you to get all the benefits and not the problems.

Moving around conflicts with Digestion

Besides health and safety reasons like distracting you while doing dangerous things or encouraging you to spill liquids when you are working around high voltages its really an issue of your body finding it hard to move around while digesting food at the same time.


So it’s actually a resourcing issue. Moving requires more oxygen, energy, water and other nutrients which are all delivered in blood. So moving means more blood is delivered around the body. The faster you move and the higher its intensity the more blood that’s required.

Blood supply

The problem is that the stomach is generally the body system that requires the most nutrients and therefore blood. Moving is basically the only thing that requires more blood so these two systems often compete for a limited blood supply. It is why your pulse goes up when you exercise. It’s your bodies way of getting more blood around the body.

The same can happen when you eat, just at a much smaller scale. It’s why you often feel tired after a big meal. All the blood is being diverted to digest the food you ate so less is available.

This is why the most important factor in whether activity is ok or not is the intensity of the activity versus the difficulty of the meal to digest. This is about the size of the meal and type of food eaten.

High intensity exercise is fine when a meal is easy to digest meaning it is:

  • small
  • high in water content
  • low in bran and high fibre foods
  • low in protein
  • preferably liquified like soups, thinner soups preferred

Medium intensity exercise is preferred when your meal is moderately difficult to digest. Things like:

  • bits of softer food like cooked pasta and rice.
  • a medium size meal
  • thicker soups

Low intensity exercise is better when your meal is hard to digest. This includes:

  • a big meal
  • high protein content particularly tough meats like beef
  • lots of hard solid food: not liquified

I can see quickly how these lists can be misinterpreted so I’ll work on them over time. For now I hope their simplicity can be a useful guide. Common sense is always recommended, these details just complement.

Don’t challenge your stomach

The basic idea is that anything that’s a challenge for the digestive system will require more blood from the body. That puts it in conflict with the blood required by the movement system. If the blood required for both digestion and moving is greater than your body can provide then problems arise because one system or both won’t get enough. So either you can’t move as well as you like or your body can’t digest things properly.

The right balance

You must therefore find the right balance with the key being eating foods that are easy for your body to digest. That’s why liquified foods like soups and drinks are so good when you move. Your body just doesn’t have to do so much to digest them because they are already broken down. Reducing the challenge on your digestive system and thus your body and its ability to supply blood.

Stomach pains

Dehydration, whether it is caused by exercise or something else can cause pain while your body digests a meal. Tomorrow I will explain how I have learnt to deal with stomach pains from dehydration

Everyday activities

In two days I will explain how knowing all this helps me enjoy everyday activities more.

How to lose weight: It’s not what you eat but the way that you eat it.

An important reason I find it easy to keep my weight down is because the way that I eat my food is different than those who put weight on. I’ve talked about setting aside specific time to eat and doing nothing else. That’s one way but lots of people do that and I’m not talking about eating up side down either if you thought it would be something silly :-).

What I am talking about is of course something simple that anyone can do but the general advice from experts, until recently is not to do it. They were adamant that it won’t have much impact on weight loss. Have you guessed what it is yet?

The secret

Moving. Yep it’s as simple as that. Walking, dancing, playing. Anything that gets you physically active. Just try and move any chance you get. an obvious idea is to move while you eat, instead of sitting down to eat. Stand or better, move around.

There area  a few gotches though so I’ll go through a little of what I have found in my years of moving while eating. I do it all the time but I’ve spent time learning how to do it right.

I often move while I eat. Sacrilege I know but because I know sports science and know why it can be bad for you I also know how to make it work and get around the bad aspects so it won’t hurt you.

Burn calories while you consume them

The basic advantage of eating while moving when considering weight loss is relatively obvious. If you burn calories while you consume them then you’re obviously having a dent on your energy balance. Though this is no use if it is the only time you move or you move less at other times of the day as a result of moving while eating. The idea is just about increasing the opportunities in your day to burn calories. Make this effortless and the weight will simply come off. Sounds too simple to work but it does for me so why won’t it for you?

Over the years I’ve found so many situations where this works perfectly, complementing my life and even making me appreciate my food more instead of less.

I’ve been doing this for years without problems so I feel ready to share. I just need to explain why it can be bad for you so you can learn how to do it without problems too.

There are a number of reasons why eating on the move could be a problem. Firstly you should know the basics of what eating on the move means to me.

Health and Safety

I only eat while moving slowly and where it won’t be a safety hazard. As silly as it sounds its important to make this point.

Normal rules apply. Use common sense. If I’m doing something potentially dangerous like DIY I don’t technically eat and work at the same time. For example I will do some drilling, stop put the drill down, have a nibble or a drink, put the food or drink down and resume drilling.

I’m pretty safety conscious and I know what I am like when I am busy and follow someone elses instructions I can easily misinterpret things so I feel it’s worth being pretty clear.

What situations?

The main situations I eat while moving are while doing house work, particularly:

  • washing up,
  • loading the dishwasher and washing machine
  • cooking.

Though not while doing things where my hands won’t be clean like

  • hoovering
  • cleaning

I only do certain types of activities when I eat and generally it’s stuff that:

  • has low intensity
  • doesn’t require much thought

Enjoy the experience

That means I can focus most of my attention on my meal and thus fulfil the principle I laid out of setting aside time specifically for eating so you can enjoy the experience.

Kick back

These mundane chores are now a chance for me to kick back and do something I enjoy. My senses tune into the food not the boring task at hand. At the same time I get something done that needs to be done.

Multitask: Don’t add work more to your busy day

This fulfils the next principle of not adding even more work to your day. Quite the opposite. You have now combined tasks, eating and chores and burnt calories in the process. Achieving three tasks for the price of one.

Multitasking. That’s how I roll and why it works. Over time I have found more and more situations where this works and so my life has become easier and easier. Weight loss and the strengthening act of moving is built more and more into my day.

Putting it to work

Thanks for popping by. I hope this helps and please let me know what you do with this information. These points have freed up my life a lot. I just get stuff done and have more time for fun yet I’m much more active throughout the day. Though it’s taken time to figure out how to apply the ideas. Absolutely get in tough if you want to know more.

Want more?

This is the first in a series of posts on weightloss. If you like this then checkout the other articles listed below.

How to exercise more in normal life. Toddlers and Ikea part two

Following up last week’s visit we went back today to get one of the items we saw last week.

It was another good time. Much less effort this time since we knew what we wanted.

I took the stuff to the car and loaded it while my life and little one got their food.

Worked like clockwork really.

  • He was entertained. 
    • He loved it. 
    • He liked their toys in the restaurant. 
    • Once he finished his dinner he had great fun pulling around a truck he found.
  • We got out got stuff done
    • freed up the weekend
    • can build it while watching the Australian Open 🙂
  • Hassle free. 
    • it was virtually empty
    • No queueing
    • Parked right out front.
    • Plenty of seats in the restaurant
It’s not the biggest deal but options like this can really make the difference in a busy week with a toddler. I can see how we can sort out the living room over time without it being a huge chore. 
Of course finding the actual stuff in the Ikea warehouse is the real challenge but that’s just IKEA isn’t it 🙂